The Christian Roots Of The Holocaust (Part 4): The Catholic Reaction (From 'The Unreasoni

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The Christian Roots Of The Holocaust (Part 4): The Catholic Reaction (From "The Unreasoning Clergy By Michael Hakeem, Ph.D. in Freethought Today) The specter of Martin Luther was a haunting presence in Nazism and was in attendance at the Holocaust. Numerous scholars have taken note of that fact. For example, Professor Robert J. Wistrich, one of the profoundest students of worldwide anti-Semitism, writes: "The seed of hatred sown by Luther would reach its horrible climax in the Third Reich when German Protestants showed themselves to be particularly receptive to Nazi antisemitism." The Lutheran editor of the American translation of Luther's works comments: "It is impossible to publish Luther's treatise today . . . without noting how similar to his proposals were the actions of the National Socialist regime in Germany in the 1930's and 1940's." The Nazis would now and then pay tribute to their mentor by staging an event on a date or at a place associated with him. They declared, for example, that their first large-scale pogrom against the Jews in November, 1938 was a pious operation performed in honor of the anniversary of Luther's birthday. To cite but one more example, the installation of Ludwig Mller as Reich Bishop was conducted with great fanfare in the church at Wittenberg where Luther had preached. Hitler, in Mein Kampf, names Luther as one of the great heroes of the German people. The historian, Professor Friedrich Heer, is authority for the knowledge that Hitler "was prepared to concede that Luther had prepared the way for his own work." He quotes Hitler as saying, as early as 1918: "He saw the Jew as we are only now beginning to see him today." (Ominous.) What was it that Luther offered that made him so attractive to the Nazis? It was a book-length treatise, On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he gave expression to his unbridled, not to say utterly maniacal, detestation of Jews, and which contained more than a hint of genocidal intentions toward them. Luther's vehement attacks on the Jews were frequently recalled and widely disseminated by the Nazis. The original edition of Luther's loathsome volume was exhibited in a special glass case at party rallies in Nuremberg. In page after page of Hitler's ranting against the Jews in Mein Kampf, one soon comes to realize that echoes of Martin Luther are being heard. Julius Streicher, the chief party ideologist of anti-Semitism, argued in his defense at the Nuremberg trials that he had never said anything about the Jews that Martin Luther had not said four hundred years earlier. No paraphrase or brief excerpts can give the full flavor of the seething hatred with which Luther assailed the Jews. It has to be read to be believed. He can hardly find words vile enough to describe what he apparently believes are creatures endowed with very little of human qualities. There is no malevolence, crime, immorality, and depravity he does not attribute to them. He even resorts to gross obscenities. Luther is not satisfied merely to mouth all this vitriol. He calls on the civil authorities to implement some hideously cruel measures against the Jews. He recommends that their synagogues be burned. Their houses should be destroyed and they should be forced to live like Gypsies under one roof or in a stable. Their prayer books and Talmuds should be taken away from them. Their rabbis should be forbidden to teach, and they should be killed if they violate the prohibition. They should not be permitted to travel. They should be deprived of all their cash, silver, and gold. The young and strong, both men and women, should be forced to do hard, menial labor. If, after all this, the Christians still feel threatened, the Jews should be expelled from the land. At times, Luther seems as if he is all but calling for a holocaust: "We are at fault in not slaying them." In their reaction to the Holocaust, the churches, the clergy, the theologians, and Christians at large had an opportunity to show if there is substance to their claim that only a Christian presence can yield peace, justice, regard for the preciousness of every human creature, and universal love. Christians were put to the test by Nazism and the Holocaust and failed miserably. They predominantly allied themselves with the Nazis, and they remained essentially silent about the major moral issue that confronted them--the staggering abuse, torture, enslavement, and slaughter of many millions of men, women, and children for no other reason than that they were Jews. An insignificant number, mighty or humble, spoke out against it. One embarks on treacherous waters when seeking the truth on this Germanic nightmare. Unless one has a thorough knowledge of the vast and ever-increasing relevant research and scholarship one can be fed much disinformation. Christian apologists are fond of citing this or that instance of resistance to Nazism or of some rescue of Jews as representative of common practice. Indeed, there were such isolated instances but they were just that. Most important is the larger picture. What did the churches do officially? Were Christians massively opposed to what the Nazis were doing? Did important church leaders, aroused by Christian reflex, unhesitatingly and unceasingly publicly condemn the slaughter of the Jews? Consider the Catholic Church. Only a few months after Hitler came to power, the Vatican joined him in a Concordat whereby it agreed to recognize the legitimacy of his regime and to abolish all Catholic political and social organizations in Germany in return for some concessions to the Church which Hitler proceeded very soon to disregard. The Concordat had stifling effects on any possibility of protest, and it served to confirm the propriety of support of the regime by millions of Catholics. The eagerness with which the Vatican came to terms with the Hitler regime could be expected from the history of its penchant for "forging diplomatic links with conservative or even fascist regimes [because] it found most aspects of right-wing regimes congenial," to convey the point in the words of Professor of History Michael R. Marrus. Professor Friedrich Heer, in his magnificently researched God's First Love, backs him up, as do many other historians. Heer gives a lengthy and vivid account of the political leanings (anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-Semitic, anti-enlightenment) of Catholicism and the Church's leaders. It is this that led them swiftly into the Nazi fold and, once in, kept them from opposing even the extermination of the Jews. Supporting his conclusions with copious excerpts from Catholic publications, Heer shows the extraordinary support the Church gave the Nazi regime as well as its wars, which most historians regard as flagrantly aggressive and monumentally unjust. He observes: "Catholic theologians rightly discovered many affinities between Nazi ideology and Catholicism. . . . Many church papers . . . became virtually propaganda organs of National Socialism." Heer finds that "the [Catholic] press worked smoothly in the service of the war propaganda machine." If Christianity is the only dependable bulwark against human cruelty and depravity, tyranny and unmitigated slaughter, as its advocates claim, it requires that Christians at least say something against such abhorrences, doesn't it? And certainly Christians should refrain from participating in them, shouldn't they? As has been said, only a few German Catholics, high or low, spoke out against the Nazi treatment of the Jews, and large numbers of them participated in the work of rounding up, transporting, working to death, running the concentration camps, waging the wars, and executing innocents. Millions of Catholic soldiers, vigorously prodded by their bishops and priests, proudly fought in Hitler's unjust and rapacious wars. In fact, evidence has been uncovered that some churches checked their birth records at the request of the government in order to sort out Jews for it. What about the Pope (Pius XII reigned during most of the era), topmost Roman Catholic, exemplar of Christian truth and virtue, Vicar of Christ, moral teacher of his flock and of the world, defender of the right, promoter of unrestricted brotherhood and universal love, and infallible interpreter of every wish and instruction of God? In statements the likes of which occur in a multitude of objective histories by other scholars, Professor Nora Levin concludes that the Pope "did not condemn the exterminations or exterminators as such. The Vatican . . . remained silent through the Holocaust . . . . Appeals were made to the Vatican by Jews in the midst of the Holocaust and those distant from it. But the hoped-for protest never came." Appeals to the Pope that he speak out specifically against the genocide of the Jews came from many quarters, Jewish and non-Jewish. The Pope was immovable. On several occasions, President Roosevelt's personal representative to the Vatican outrightly requested the Pope to condemn the "incredible horrors" perpetrated by the Nazis. Immovable. In one try, the President's representative forwarded to the Papal Secretary of State a memorandum from the Jewish Agency reporting mass executions of Jews in Poland and occupied Russia and deportations from several nations to the death camps and asked for suggestions as to how world opinion can be brought to bear so the barbarities would cease. The Secretary replied that it had not been possible to verify that such measures were being taken against the Jews. Immovable. Actually there is rather conclusive documentation that the Vatican knew about it very early. After the Allies had denounced the extermination in December 1942, the United States representative again asked the Papal Secretary to issue a similar denunciation. The Secretary replied that the Vatican, pursuing a policy of neutrality, could not protest specific atrocities and could only condemn immoral actions in general. (The highest representative of Christ on earth was strictly forbidden from speaking out specifically about the slaughter of millions of innocent human beings.) There are two bits of evidence that lead to the hypothesis that the reasons given by the Vatican for refusing to object to the extermination of the Jews were nothing but rationalizations. One is the fact that it had intervened on behalf of Catholics of Jewish descent. The other is the Vatican's joining in the widespread protest against the euthanasia program that disposed of Gypsies and other "unfit," a protest that had at least some positive effects. Millions of human beings throughout history have learned that sometimes it is dangerous to live in Christian countries, not to mention countries where other religions prevail, especially lethal when religion and government are allied. The final Part 5 will examine the even more dismal performance of the Protestants. [Michael Hakeem, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.] ------------------------------------------------------------------------- This article is reprinted (with permission) from the January/February 1993 issue of Freethought Today, bulletin of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. For more information, write Freedom From Religion Foundation P. O. Box 750 Madison, WI 53701 USA (608) 256-8900

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